When asking candidates what type of business they wish to work for, one of the most common responses is that they are looking to work for a people focused business. On further probing, I often find that candidates struggle to articulate exactly what a people focused business means to them and a large proportion find it difficult to talk through what elements of culture they would look for in this type of business. I think in many instances, candidates tell me what they don’t want in an organisation rather than what they do want. They tend to focus on things that they don’t like about the organisation they currently work for as opposed to the desirable elements of a people focused business. What I also find very interesting is that they often don’t look at it from the perspective of cultural fit. Their desire may sometimes be a little ideological – that they want to work for a paternalistic company who treats it employees incredibly well putting them above any other objectives, without considering whether that is the culture that would best suit their own values and behaviours. The balance of these objectives against other business objectives will vary and businesses can be very different in their approach with different people suiting different cultures. What is clear and understandable is that individuals want to work in a culture where they are valued, feel empowered and rewarded for what they do.
In my view, a people focused business is one where the ideology of the organisation is that by hiring, engaging and rewarding great people you will be able to more effectively achieve the company objectives. Surely all businesses act in this way? As we are all aware, this is far from the truth.
So what exactly does a people focused look like and what are the signs to look out for?
- A supportive culture. A people focused business is one where people are truly at the centre of its actions. One where the individual gets out as much as they are putting in. It will be a business where people feel listened to and this may manifest itself through forums and surveys as well as the openness of the culture.
- Strong internal communications. High levels of communication are important in ensuring you are engaging and motivating your workforce and should lead to a greater sense of belonging and working towards a common goal. Again a great step in maximising the potential of your people.
- A training and development team. Many businesses talk about the development they provide but when you ask about specific programs that are in place or budgets allocated they can provide little evidence. Truly people focused businesses will invest in people with the belief that this will increase productivity, aid retention and lead to stronger long term profits.
- A structured appraisal system. Linked to the development of people is having a structured appraisal system that provides a sense of purpose, clarity of expectation and provides transparency and structure to Line Managers about how they manage their people. Again, this is a good indicator about the focus the business places on its development strategy.
- Strong benefits and conditions. It is not only about how you treat and manage your workforce but also how you reward them. To attract and retain the best people, it is important that the benefits package is designed to support the individual. This is not about necessarily offering the highest salary in your sector but is about what else you can do to provide the individual with a work/life balance to try and ensure you get the best out of them. This could range from gym membership to time off to support a local charity. All these elements are designed to improve the emotional and physical well being of the individual with the view that this will improve their productivity and contribution to the business.
- A Wellness policy. The more cutting edge people focused businesses may have gone a step further and have introduced a Wellness policy. This area is growing in popularity and involves taking a more holistic approach to the care and well-being of your employees. The advocates of this philosophy believe that taking a more involved and caring approach will have significant benefits longer term not only in terms of the loyalty and motivation of the workforce but also in productivity. Businesses introducing such schemes are likely to have a strong people focus.
- Effective performance management. A people focused business isn’t about having a soft culture where poor performance is tolerated. It is about having an open, transparent culture where expectations are clear. Again, it is not about what is said but the actions that are taken.
- A robust selection process. Placing importance on recruiting the right people who culturally fit the organisation and share the right values is a sign that people are really at the heart of the company’s strategy.
Many businesses will describe themselves as people focused but are they really? Whilst the list above provides some indicators, ultimately it is about culture and about behaviour.
I saw one business recently describe itself as a people focused business that does what ever it takes to deliver. So, what does it do when these elements conflict? What happens if getting that result has a negative impact on their people? To really understand if a business is people focused you need to talk to their employees and focus on not what it says, but what does it actually does. A useful website to visit is www.glassdoor.co.uk which provides employer reviews by existing and previous employees.